Sir Edmund Hillary, 87, was hospitalized after returning from Nepal Sunday, according to media reports in New Zealand, his home country. Hillary and Nepali Tenzing Norgay were the first to successfully climb Mount Everest, in 1953.
The reason for his hospitalization has not been revealed by the family, but Hillary’s condition is not believed to be life-threatening. His wife, Lady June Hillary, said in a statement that she was happy with his progress and that he is in a comfortable condition and improving daily. There are unconfirmed reports that he fell over the weekend but didn’t seek medical attention until returning home. In recent years Hillary has used a cane while walking.
The 1953 Everest summit expedition was Hillary’s second visit to Nepal – he also participated in the 1951 trip that scouted the route – but he has returned frequently to build schools, medical clinics, and bridges. He and his foundation, The Himalayan Trust, have donated millions of dollars for education, health, infrastructure and reforestation projects since 1961.
In 2003 he attended the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the ascent of Everest, and on this trip he visited members of the SuperSherpas Expedition. The group is composed entirely of ethnic Sherpas and hopes to gain attention for the under-appreciated role of Sherpas in every major Himalayan climbing expedition. While in Nepal he also lobbied actively for a clean up of Mount Everest, considered sacred by many Nepalis.
Hillary was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1953 and has received many other awards and prizes. His face is on the New Zealand five dollar note, the only time that honor has been given to a living New Zealander. Various streets, schools and organizations in New Zealand and abroad are named for him. At the Everest 50th anniversary celebration, the Nepali Government conferred honorary citizenship on Hillary.
On Tuesday New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark sent a get well message to Lady Hillary. During a radio address she told New Zealanders, “I’ve sent a message (to Lady Hillary) saying ‘we’re thinking of you, and we want Sir Ed to be as well as he can be’.”